Guest Post — Made in Her Image: The Body Image Lesson My Heavenly Mother Taught Me
I recently had a powerful experience with Heavenly Mother – more personal and pivotal than anything I’ve experienced with Her before. I’ve hesitated to share it, and then was prompted to share it during a Relief Society lesson I was teaching last week. It felt right to share it there, and it feels right to share it here. My Mother in Heaven taught me something about my body that I’ve been teaching girls and women for years, and I’ll never forget it.
I have a Ph.D. in body image resilience and run a nonprofit dedicated to promoting positive body image, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the anxiety, shame, and fixation on appearance so many women bear. As a woman with a body, no number of advanced degrees or years of activism could ever fully free me from the stifling objectification of our world and the body-monitoring self-objectification that our world encourages.
This work in body image activism is something I feel called to do, and have felt the guiding hand of my Heavenly Parents throughout my 10 years of college, and especially as I wrote and researched my dissertation, and during my dissertation defense where I had the surprising opportunity to bear testimony of the church’s feminist foremothers and our Heavenly Mother herself. It was powerful. The four male professors and one female professor in that University of Utah room cried with me and told me the experience was transformative. It was transformative.
I’m a relatively new mom – at the time of my writing I have a 20-month-old daughter. My expertise is in body image resilience, or becoming stronger because of difficult feelings and experiences in my body, not in spite of those things. This summer, I experienced one of those difficult things I teach about.
I love swimming. I love the water. I’ve committed for years to never miss an opportunity to swim because of body shame that tells me I’m unfit to be seen in a swimsuit. And because of this, swimming has brought me great joy and a constant reminder of my favorite Beauty Redefined mantra: My body is an instrument, not an ornament! But one day this summer, as my husband and I drove home from a fun day at the lake with our baby, I was suddenly drowning in body shame as I scrolled through pictures my husband had taken of me and my baby. I was caught off guard at how ashamed I was of my body, and I quickly went against all my own teachings and deleted the photos.
When we got home, I laid on my bed alone and prayed aloud while my husband was showering. I needed my Mother, and I asked for Her help. I told Her I was overcome with body shame (and guilt because of the shame) and I asked for Her to comfort me. And as soon as I asked, the warmest feeling of love and pride washed over me. I saw myself walking somewhere – I was looking at my body from behind. As I looked at myself, I felt the same kind of pride I feel about my baby girl. I love every inch of her – her belly, her legs, the fuzzy hair on the back of her head. I am so proud of her. I felt that for me, from my Mother. I felt how She feels about me, and it extended beyond my body. As I watched myself walk, I felt this pride for who I was and what I was doing. I can only describe it as absolute, unconditional pride and love.
I laid there and cried tears of joy. My shame washed away. I grabbed my phone and wrote down what happened so I wouldn’t forget. The note in my phone ended with, “She doesn’t want me to feel ashamed. She wants me to be happy and proud and continue on. I felt Her. I felt Her love.”
And I did. And that love – love that I can only compare to the love I feel for my baby, which doesn’t do it justice – is the love She has for all of us. I know this is true. Women, who bear the burden of so much pain in our bodies, physically, mentally, and emotionally, are designed in the image of a Mother in Heaven who loves us and we love Her. She is so proud of the ways we rise with resilience in the face of so much pain. And She reminded me that day that She is there to lift us up.
Lexie Kite, Ph.D., is the co-director of the Beauty Redefined Foundation (www.beautyredefined.org) alongside her twin sister, Lindsay Kite. Since establishing Beauty Redefined in 2009, Lexie and Lindsay have become leading experts in the work of body image resilience through research-backed online education available on their website, social media, and through speaking events to tens of thousands across the US.